Courtney Hicks

WATCH: Yuzuru Hanyu sets short program record; Wagner in medal territory at NHK Trophy

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Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu set the new short program world record – raising his own world record by about five points from when he set it in Sochi – to lead the men’s field at the NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan.

The 20-year-old landed two clean quads, one in combination, and a triple Axel in front of a home crowd. In his other Grand Prix appearance, two of those three jumps received zero points.

China’s Jin Boyang and Hanyu’s countryman Takahito Mura sit in second and third place, respectively, though Hanyu has built a 10-point lead heading into tonight’s free program. Jin landed two quads and a triple Axel cleanly, a program that surely would lead in any other field, while Mura was clean, too.

By holding off the competition, which seems likely, Hanyu can clinch a berth into the Grand Prix Final, where he is reigning champion.

Richard Dornbush and Grant Hochstein are the only U.S. men in the competition, as Jason Brown withdrew due to a back sprain. Dornbush is seventh and Hochstein is eighth before tonight’s free program.

2015 Worlds silver medalist Satoko Miyahara of Japan leads the ladies’ field after the short program over the other Japanese skater highlighting the field, Mao Asada (currently fourth), and two of the U.S.’ skaters. Courtney Hicks is second while Ashley Wagner is third. Vancouver Olympian Mirai Nagasu is fifth.

 

 

Miyahara landed three triples in her short program, compared to Hicks and Wagner, who both turned out of their planned triple-triple combinations. Nagasu was relatively clean in her short program. Asada fell on her signature triple Axel attempt and singled her planned triple Lutz.

Asada made her return to competition this season after winning the 2014 World title but skipping the subsequent season. Both Asada and Wagner can clinch berths to the Grand Prix Final by winning medals of any color in tonight’s free program. More on that process here.

 

 

It seems it is impossible to discuss figure skating results without mentioning the Russian dominance in the ladies’ field; however, in the short program, their competitors sat a lackluster seventh, ninth, and 11th in a field of 11. Russia’s Maria Artemieva, Alena Leonova and Anna Pogorilaya each had at least one fall in their short programs.

Canadian pairs team Meaghan Duhamel and Eric Radford are in the hunt for their ninth straight international win and a Grand Prix Final berth – a feat made a lot easier after the withdrawl of Olympic pairs champs Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov of Russia. The Canadian pair leads over Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim of the United States, currently second, also looking for a berth with a medal in Japan.

Men’s free skate — Saturday, 2:30 a.m. ET (start order here)
Women’s free skate — Saturday, 5:35 a.m. ET (start order here)

U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s preview

Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, Polina Edmunds, Mirai Nagasu
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The most anticipated competition at this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships is among the women, where a growing rivalry brews for gold and several skaters are in the picture to make the World Championships roster of three.

Icenetwork.com will stream the short program from Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday at 7:50 p.m. ET. NBC will air the free skate live on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Here’s the start order. Here’s the full competition schedule.

Here’s a look at women’s skaters to watch, with takes from NBC figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir.

Gracie Gold
Age: 19
Hometown: Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. champion, fourth at 2014 Olympics, fifth at 2014 World Championships

Gold was the clear favorite to repeat since her maiden title last year, until Dec. 4, when she announced she had a small stress fracture in her foot and pulled out of the Grand Prix Final. She’s pronounced herself ready to go, but that injury plus Ashley Wagner‘s fantastic free skate at the Grand Prix Final raised doubt.

Lipinski’s Take: “After talking to them, Ashley seemed so hungry and so vicious. … When I talked to Gracie, she was a little more reserved. I almost could feel the fear, but she’s technically so good.”

Gracie Gold’s evolving friendship with Taylor Swift

Ashley Wagner
Age: 23
Hometown: Los Angeles
Credentials: 2012-13 U.S. champion, seventh at 2014 Olympics, seventh at 2014 World Championships

Wagner is the oldest podium threat but has the most momentum. She won bronze in December at the Grand Prix Final, the biggest international competition of the season outside of the World Championships. She fought to earn a podium place with a strong free skate, jumping from sixth place out of six skaters after the short program. Her free skate score was six points higher than Gold’s total when she won the NHK Trophy in Japan two weeks earlier. Wagner can become the oldest U.S. champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005 and the first woman to win three titles since Kwan, who won nine.

Lipinski’s Take: “Ashley’s win of the bronze at the Grand Prix Final has elevated her back again into maybe the favorite for gold, whereas I feel before Gracie was still holding onto that position. That rivalry is going to be pretty intense, especially the short program, just because so much rides on that. I’m sure the energy in the building that night will be palpable.”

Ashley Wagner, unshaken by 2014, out to reclaim U.S. title

Polina Edmunds
Age: 16
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. silver medalist, ninth at 2014 Olympics, eighth at 2014 World Championships

Edmunds shocked TD Garden when she finished second to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team last year, in her first senior U.S. Championships. She struggled to adapt to increased pressure and puberty in this follow-up season. Edmunds will finish sixth this week if all skaters repeat their best scores from the Grand Prix season. Edmunds hopes to become the youngest U.S. champion since Mirai Nagasu in 2008.

Lipinski’s Take: “I could probably relate most to what Polina is going through now. I grew an inch and a half, two inches every year. When I won Worlds [in 1997] and then the Olympics [in 1998], I definitely grew. You can feel the differences. Hopefully, speaking for Polina, even after talking to her, she has such a great base and technique for her triple [jumps]. I think that will hold her over, even if she is feeling some changes.”

Polina Edmunds deals with growing pains since Olympics

Mirai Nagasu
Age: 21
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. bronze medalist, 2008 U.S. champion, fourth at 2010 Olympics

Nagasu was left off the three-woman Sochi Olympic team despite finishing third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. That’s because fourth-place Wagner had much stronger results in the two years leading up to the Olympics, which also go into determining the Olympic team. This season, Nagasu has not skated well enough to make one believe she can win the U.S. title. However, she knows what it takes to perform well on the big stage, winning the 2008 U.S. title at age 14, the second-youngest ever behind Tara Lipinski. She hopes to return to Worlds for the first time since 2010.

Weir’s Take: “Certainly a year of renaissance for Mirai Nagasu with a new coaching team. We did see stronger performances on the Grand Prix, but not on the same level as Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold are giving.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

Samantha Cesario
Age: 21
Hometown: Oceanside, N.Y.
Credentials: Fifth at 2014 U.S. Championships, fourth at 2014 Skate America

Cesario will finish third, and presumably make her first World Championships team, if all skaters repeat their best scores from the Grand Prix season. That would be a breakout for the New Yorker, who improved from eighth at the 2013 U.S. Championships to finish fifth last year, beating Wagner in the free skate.

Weir’s Take: “She has that razzle dazzle appeal of New York.”

Courtney Hicks
Age: 19
Hometown: Chino Hills, Calif.
Credentials: Sixth at 2014 U.S. Championships, fourth at 2013 U.S. Championships

Hicks, a former U.S. junior champion, put herself in the Olympic conversation with the third-best free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships. But her very next nationals program, the short in Boston in 2014, was 16th best, ending her Sochi hopes. She was fourth at both of her Grand Prix events this season, proving the most consistent American behind Wagner and Gold.

Lipinski’s Take: “Huge jumps.”

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir’s predictions for U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner finishes second at Skate Canada; Grand Prix analysis

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner didn’t impress at the 2014 U.S. Championships, Olympics and World Championships, but she remains the top U.S. woman in Grand Prix competition.

Wagner took second at Skate Canada, behind Russian Anna Pogorilaya in Kelowna, British Columbia, on Saturday night. Pogorilaya, the leader after the short program, won with 191.81 points. Wagner had 186, keeping her runner-up spot from the short program with two under-rotated jumps and no triple-triple combination in her free skate (video here).

Pogorilaya’s clean free skate made it four straight top-level events in which the top active finisher was a different Russian. Adelina Sotnikova won the Olympics, Yulia Lipnitskaya won the World Championships silver medal (behind Mao Asada, who is not competing this season) and Yelena Radionova won Skate America last week.

Pogorilaya didn’t make the Russian Olympic team and was fourth at the World Championships.

Wagner was fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships but made the three-woman U.S. Olympic team in part due to her strong international results — unrivaled among Americans — the past few years.

Wagner has finished first or second at Grand Prix series events six times since 2012. Other U.S. women have done so a combined two times. Wagner has made a Grand Prix podium each of the last six seasons.

Wagner was beaten by Gracie Gold at last season’s U.S. Championships, Olympics and Worlds. Wagner was seventh at the Olympics and Worlds.

But Wagner’s total score at Skate Canada was 6.62 points better than Gold at Skate America last week. The other U.S. Olympian, Polina Edmunds, makes her Grand Prix debut at Cup of China next week.

Wagner, Gold and Edmunds appear the early favorites for January’s U.S. Championships. Three women will make the team for the World Championships in March.

Pogorilaya’s win marks the first time since 2003 that one nation swept the first two Grand Prix women’s events. In 2003, American Sasha Cohen prevailed at Skate America and Skate Canada. In 2002, Michelle Kwan won Skate America, and Cohen won Skate Canada.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Skate Canada coverage Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

Skate Canada women’s results
1. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 191.81
2. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 186
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 181.75
4. Courtney Hicks (USA) — 174.51

Leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Elena Radionova (RUS) — 195.47 (Skate America)
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 191.81 (Skate Canada)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 189.62 (Skate America)
4. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 186 (Skate Canada)
5. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 181.75 (Skate Canada)
6. Gracie Gold (USA) — 179.38 (Skate America)
Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova to debut at Rostelecom Cup in two weeks. World silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya to debut at Cup of China next week.

U.S. leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 186 (Skate Canada)
2. Gracie Gold (USA) — 179.38 (Skate America)
3. Samantha Cesario (USA) — 174.58 (Skate America)
4. Courtney Hicks (USA) — 174.51 (Skate Canada)
5. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 158.21 (Skate America)
U.S. Olympian Polina Edmunds to debut at Cup of China.

Alpine skiers beaten out for Austria Sportsman of the Year award